- Throughout the female menstrual cycle our hormones fluctuate, causing physiological changes in our body. Learning to train & eat around your cycle can make a huge impact on your sports performance and recovery.
During the luteal phase of our cycle the hormone progesterone is high. While progesterone is fantastic for mood (amongst other things), it can make us feel more fatigued, sluggish and less powerful when we exercise. However, this does not mean that you can’t get a PB during the luteal phase! We just need to understand and adjust our training and food intake to help us perform at our best.
This is the second post I’m doing on the menstrual cycle, how it affects your sports performance, and how nutrition can help. Make sure you’ve read Sports Performance and the Menstrual Cycle – Part 1 – Menstruation.
So what is the luteal phase and how does it affect sports performance?
- The luteal phase starts after ovulation (when your ovaries release an egg) and before your period starts. This is the phase where progesterone is higher than oestrogen and is normally the 12-14 days before your period.
- When progesterone is higher, we actually need to be eating slightly more good quality food (mainly protein & good quality carbs), as we can burn up to 300 extra calories per day.
- If we don’t eat enough when in this stage to make up for this extra burned energy, then our body starts to steal amino acids (proteins) from our muscles. This causes muscle breakdown, slow recovery, increased inflammation, hormonal imbalances and makes the body believe we are in starvation mode and starts to store more of our food in our adipose tissue than use it for energy!
- In the luteal phase we find it harder to access our stored carbohydrates when exercising. This causes us to feel a lot more fatigued and sluggish and we struggle to hit high intensity levels like we normal would. So, when at training and competitions during this phase you really need to make sure you regularly get some carbs in. This ensures your body has more carbs to use making it easier to turn these carbs into energy, reduce fatigue and promote optimal performance.
- Progesterone also increases our bodies temperature, so we sweat more when in the luteal phase, meaning we need more water and electrolytes than normal to prevent dehydration.
So should I train hard during the luteal phase?
- Training during the luteal phase is completely fine, including high intensity training, however you need to fuel yourself really well.
- Please also be kind to yourself – if you can’t hit target times don’t stress, they will always come back. And if you feel super fatigued, please pull back and use this time to do more relaxed paced endurance training or focus on skills and technique.
- If you have the ability in your training schedule during your luteal phase to focus on moderate endurance training, skills and recovery, this would be ideal. However, I know this is not possible for everyone, and you may have a competition that falls during this time of your cycle. If so, don’t stress – see my tips below
Nutrition tips to help you preform at your peak during the luetal phase:
- Increase your daily carbohydrate intake at each meal so you have sufficient energy on board for training
- Carbs to focus on: coloured rices, sweet and white potato, pumpkin, fruit, traditional rolled oats, quinoa, legumes, wholemeal pasta, buckwheat and good quality sourdough or rye bread.
- Your body is also in more of a breakdown state, so be sure to get 30g of protein per meal and after all exercise!
- Increase intake of omega 3 rich foods, as these help you access stored carbohydrates from your muscles better. Good foods to include are: salmon, sardines, anchovies, hemp seeds, raw walnuts, chia seeds and cold pressed flax seed oil.
- When training/competing in the luteal phase you want to be eating small carbohydrate snacks more regularly throughout workouts and races to help you access some carbs for energy.
- Aim to start fueling after the first 45 minutes of exercise and then fuel every 30 minutes onwards.
- If your exercise session goes for more than 45 minutes, you must hydrate with both water and an electrolyte drink.
Good carbohydrates sources to eat during exercise are:
- Spring energy gels
- Dried Figs
- Bliss balls – either home-made or brands like Tasti, Tom & Lukes or Carmen’s
- Clif bloks
- Carmen’s oat slice or Clif bars
- Super Hero Energy Muffins
- A good quality electrolyte drink that includes carbohydrates, such as Pure Sports Nutrition Electrolyte or Pro4mance Produrance (HASTA approved)
Daily supplementation that can really help reduce fatigue, PMS and support carbohydrate access in the luteal phase:
- 250mg magnesium bisglycinate
- 45mg zinc
- 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil)
Please take all of the above supplements with a meal.
If you are a drug tested athlete, you must only use HASTA approved supplements! Even if you are not a drug tested athlete, I highly recommend you seek advice on the best quality supplements you are taking, not all supplements are good quality!
Do you want to learn more about improving sports performance during the luetal phase, or how to track your menstrual cycle so you can train and eat according to your body’s needs? Then please reach out to me so I can give you some individualised advice 🙂